Len McCluskey should see the value of free movement | Letters

Readers respond after the general secretary of the Unite union said that to win the election Labour must take a tough line on the free movement of workers

It is depressing to see Len McCluskey regurgitating the false notion that free movement across Europe has ushered in a regime of cheap labour and the undercutting of wages (Backlash as union chief calls for Labour to curb free movement, 14 November).

This is factually incorrect as consistently demonstrated by researchers such as Jonathan Portes, and deeply insulting to all those European workers who have been contributing massively to our society – doctors, nurses, teachers, university researchers, social care staff, drivers, workers in the food, hospitality and building industries – people who have been paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, hence contributing to the economy and in fact creating jobs and growth.

I cannot believe that all the staff at McCluskey’s disposal have not informed him of the objective facts about the impact of free movement. Hence his intervention is a wilful distortion of the situation, pandering to anti-immigrant ideology going back generations. The Labour party’s manifesto team must honour the excellent conference motion on free movement and not give in to McCluskey’s retrogade, populist rhetoric.
Gideon Ben-Tovim
Emeritus reader in sociology, University of Liverpool

• Any Labour supporter drawing too simple a pragmatic message from Len McCluskey’s remarks on immigration policy, conceding ground to working-class “commonsense concerns” over migrants, should reflect on the recent experience of other European social-democratic parties following this path.

Denmark’s Social Democrats’ move to rightwing anti-immigration policies helped them win the 2019 parliamentary elections, but at the expense of cementing Islamophobia firmly at the heart of Danish politics, thereby assisting the rise of two new far-right national parties, boding ill for the future. Elsewhere, electoral failure has ensued instead.

Slovakia’s social-democratic prime minister, Robert Fico, campaigned in 2016 using anti-migrant language, promising to “never allow a single Muslim immigrant under a quota system”. His party lost its majority and 40% of its parliamentary seats, while neo-Nazis gained 10% of the seats. The Czech Republic’s left-of-centre president, Milos Zeman, adopted anti-immigrant policies in national elections in 2017 – the result was a dramatic surge in favour of populist anti-migrant parties and the ruling social democrats fell to 7% of the vote. Echoing anti-immigrant sentiment legitimises and emboldens populist rightwing politics.
John Chowcat
Hythe, Kent

• Len McCluskey’s dispiriting intervention on Wednesday was a blast from a politically alien, but not-so-distant past. It was the “Controls on immigration” mug all over again. Policy should be adopted because it is morally and ethically right – and argued for on that basis. It was this impulse that lay behind the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in the first place. Because Labour’s current strategy means enthusing its base as much as its potential voters, policies must be optimistic, radical and progressive.

And, as it turns out, freedom of movement is overwhelmingly popular with the general public. A recent poll showed 67% in favour of complete freedom of movement for EU and UK nationals to live and work in each others’ countries.

McCluskey’s resurrection of the “traditional/white working class” – a racist dogwhistle if ever there was one – is poisonous. It is a concept that must be cast into Labour’s dustbin for ever, alongside the Ed stone and that “Controls on immigration” mug. The working class includes everyone who works for a living, whether they are born here or not.

Everyone deserves protections at work, decent pay, decent hours and a say in their future. Employment rights and collective bargaining can and must be extended. Bosses and capitalists who ruthlessly exploit their workforces must be unceremoniously punished. But make no mistake: denying freedom of movement for workers, and allowing bosses to threaten them with deportation if they do not conform, will undermine this task completely.
Lawrence Dunn
Manchester

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition

Letters

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Len McCluskey and Brexit negotiations | Letters
Letters: 50 members of Unite call on their general secretary to immediately withdraw from his negotiations with Theresa May, and urge MPs to vote down the Tory Brexit deal

Letters

06, Feb, 2019 @6:11 PM

Article image
Free movement is the only way to guarantee workers’ and migrants’ rights | Letters
Letters: Sixteen trade unionists and free movement advocates welcome the shift in Labour’s tone on immigration, but say it must be backed up with policy

Letters

28, Feb, 2018 @5:09 PM

Article image
Manuel Valls and Len McCluskey rev up the Brexit debate | Letters
Letters: Matt Kilcoyne says that Manuel Valls has made the prime Euro-federalist mistake in saying their way is the only way to a good outcome. David Head says being a Unite member at Honda has no value with McCluskey in charge

Letters

08, Mar, 2019 @4:45 PM

Article image
McCluskey sparks Labour backlash over tough line on free movement
Unite leader infuriates activists who campaigned for radical pro-migration motion

Larry Elliott, Severin Carrell and Heather Stewart

13, Nov, 2019 @6:48 PM

Article image
Len McCluskey is shifting the blame for Labour’s woes | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to the former Unite leader’s broadside against Keir Starmer’s leadership

Letters

16, Sep, 2021 @3:57 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit vindicated by Peterborough vote | Letter
Letter: Unite the Union’s general secretary Len McCluskey takes issue with a piece by Polly Toynbee

Letters

10, Jun, 2019 @4:46 PM

Article image
The failure of leadership behind Labour’s general election defeat | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to an article by Owen Jones in which he said that Labour faced a remorseless assault but Corbyn and the left must own their mistakes

Letters

20, Dec, 2019 @5:50 PM

Article image
Len McCluskey says EU migration was an 'experiment' at UK workers' expense
Unite leader criticises EU enlargement in 2000s that let people from countries such as Poland come to Britain in large numbers

Rajeev Syal

20, Jun, 2016 @3:40 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Labour manifesto: bold pledges for anxious times | Editorial
Editorial: Jeremy Corbyn has three weeks to win the argument with his strikingly radical tax and spending pledges

Editorial

21, Nov, 2019 @6:30 PM

Article image
Momentum and unions prepare for new Corbyn campaign after revolt
Supporters of Corbyn gear up for Labour leadership election after overwhelming vote of no confidence from party MPs

Ewen MacAskill, Caelainn Barr and Matthew Holmes

28, Jun, 2016 @7:23 PM